Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Retreat!

Campfire On Monday, we set off on a trip to our YWAM base in Koutiala, Mali – about a 6 hour drive from our home in Bamako.  We are attending a YWAM staff retreat.  We chose to ride on our YWAM bus with a lot of fellow staff members rather than drive our own car.  Even 6 years after our accident, Julie is still a little apprehensive about making the drive to Koutiala.

So far the retreat has been very beneficial.  The past few months have been difficult for us.  The retreat is allowing us to view our ministry from many new angles and helping to lift us up mentally and spiritually.  Our retreat runs all week and comes to a close with a New Year’s Eve celebration.

Last night was a special treat as we sat around a campfire as the founders of YWAM Mali shared the history of our mission which began in Mali in 1984.  It was interesting to hear how many of the ministries in Mali started.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Joyeux Noël

Christmas 2009 Merry Christmas from West Africa!  The temperature topped out today at 100° so we’re a long way from the blistery cold many of you are experiencing this time of year.  But it’s Christmas none-the-less.  We attended church last night at our friend Pastor Christophe’s church in Sabalibougou.  We left shortly after midnight.  Finances are a little tight this year, so we didn’t have Christmas clothes made.  Today, we spent the day celebrating as a family.  Julie prepared a wonderful Christmas dinner including pork roast, homemade stuffing, and a pumpkin pie made from scratch.  We also enjoyed unwrapping many gifts – some we found for each other in Mali and many sent by family and friends in the States.  We felt overwhelmed by generosity.

It has once again been a long time since we’ve updated our blog.  Our many apologies.  John is still not feeling well and is continuing to battle tiredness and fatigue.  He has also begun losing weight again.  As an added “bonus”, his hair is beginning to fall out as a result of the medication he’s taking.  These are all symptoms relating to his thyroid condition.  He and the doctor are working on finding the right dosage of medication for his treatment.  Unfortunately, it’s pretty much a matter of trial and error to reach the right point.  Hopefully John’s energy and vitality will return soon.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Go Go Go Joseph

Joseph & John One of the difficulties of missionary life is the need to say good-byes.  Our friendships are formed with people from all around the globe that are constantly coming and going.  Yesterday, we bid farewell to a longtime friend named Joseph.  John originally met him in 2002 during our CAN soccer tournament/Jesus Film showings in front of our house.  At the time, he was a refugee from Sierra Leone.  Over the years, he and John became good friends.

Joseph has a wonderful talent for making wooden pens and desk sets.  John helped him start a business and he has been successfully making a living doing this for the past several years.  We’ve had the joy of presenting several of you with pens and gifts made by Joseph.

Sierra Leone is now beginning to stabilize following almost 10 years of civil war that ended in 2000.  Joseph has decided to return and reunite with his family and reestablish his life.  It was difficult to say good-bye but we are very happy for him as we know this is something he’s been looking forward to for several years.  Today, he presented a special handmade YWAM plaque to John.  We will be continually reminded of Joseph because we see his pens and handmade nameplates on desks of many of the businesses we visit.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Flip Flop

Sorry to leave you in the dark for the past couple of weeks.  There’s really been two reasons:  Burnout and John’s Health – the two are probably related.  Now it’s time to try and get things back on track.

Update on John’s Health:

John’s been really slowing down the past few weeks and been suffering from feelings of confusion and delusion…very similar to the symptoms that led us to the discovery of his thyroid imbalance back in April.  After some tests, it appears we haven’t been monitoring things close enough over the past few months.  We discovered his medication has been overcompensating and his condition has actually reversed from having an overactive thyroid to underactive.  The doctor has completely changed John’s treatment and medication.  Now we’re going to spend the next few weeks trying to bring things back into balance again.  We’ve been going to a different medical clinic which we have a bit more confidence in.  The service has also been better and much cheaper.

When we first arrived at the clinic and explained the purpose of the visit, we were referred to an orthopedic surgeon who was the first doctor available for consultation.  This seemed like a total mismatch based on the treatment we were seeking.  But in God’s perfect way, He had a bigger purpose for the choice of doctor.  John has also been suffering a problem in his ankle and foot for the past couple of years.  In recent months, the problem has grown more severe.  His right foot and ankle has swollen to about twice its normal size.  He’s been fearing that he will require some type of surgery to get it corrected.  He brought it to the attention of the doctor during the consultation to get his advice on it.  As it turns out, this particular doctor was John’s attending physician in Mali following our car accident in 2003.  Because of John’s memory loss, he doesn’t remember the doctor.  But the doctor recognized John right off.  After a few basic questions, he said, “There are some things you’re not telling me.  I need to know EVERYTHING that’s been happening.”  This led to John mentioning his staph infection.  The doctor responded immediately by saying, “Did you get a prosthetic as part of your treatment?” He then zeroed in on the foot problem being related to John’s shoulder injury and the infection has spread to his foot.  He ordered some blood tests to confirm his suspicion.  It turns out that what we thought was an initial referral to the wrong doctor, turned out to be the best choice of doctor in Mali!  He was the only person with the background information on John’s medical history to pursue this avenue.  He said no surgery should be necessary and thinks everything can be treated with oral medication and locally applied cream treatment.  Wow…two big discoveries in one visit!  Now it’s just a matter of getting through the next few weeks and hopefully things are brought back into proper alignment.

Update on Christmas Outreach:  CANCELED!!

This has been a huge blow to John’s ministry.  The Board of Directors of BCA has rejected the idea of having our kids share the Christmas message with our neighborhood this year.  John has been devastated by this decision as much of his current ministry has been based on this project.  It is VERY difficult for him to understand why the Board feels it’s more important to “preach to the choir” and have the kids spend so much time and energy sharing the Christmas message with our missionary parents who know the story backwards and forwards when there are literally hundreds of people living footsteps from our school that have NEVER heard the Christmas message.  Even with his pleas of “If we don’t share it with them, how will they ever hear?”  The response has been, “Then you share it with them.  We don’t want our kids involved.”  John is really rethinking about his vision of involving our kids in missions projects when the parents seem so resistant to their involvement.  It is difficult for him to understand why so many missionary parents don’t seem to want their kids to follow in their footsteps.

Friday, October 30, 2009

We’ll Leave The Light On For You

It’s been a busy time of hospitality for us.  We’ve enjoyed hosting a lot of people in our guest room the past several days.  Julie will be attending a women’s conference this weekend and we have a couple of young ladies that will coming in from Koutiala and staying with us for the duration of the conference too.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Friendly Fire

A few weeks ago, we shared about a church team visiting from the U.S. that John had assisted with back in August.  Unfortunately, we ended up parting ways when it was brought to light that the team’s goals were contrary to our (the overall Christian community’s) work in Mali.  Their actions have caused a lot of trouble for the Malian church.  We found out yesterday that team returned to Mali last week and are currently here and continuing to pursue their unhealthy and dangerous agenda.  Much against the cries of Malian church and mission community, they are stirring up legal battles in Mali.  This team’s actions are putting the church at great risk and sabotaging the efforts that so many have worked years, and some have given their lives for.  It is devastating for us that this team’s self-interests are being held above the goals of the national church.  This is an extremely sensitive situation.  Please be praying for this misguided church team.  We are doing everything we can to do damage control.  With the spiritual battles that are currently going on, we didn’t expect that we would having to be dodging friendly fire too.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Bug’s Life

Rainy season seems to be drawing to a close.  We miss the rains and the coolness they bring, however it will be nice not to tromp back and forth thru the mud everywhere we go.  Mali’s agricultural life and economy are dependant on the rain and we’re hoping this year’s rains have been enough to produce a healthy harvest.  We could have used more rain, but we’re happy we haven’t suffered dangerous flooding conditions that many of our neighboring West African countries did this year.

The end of rainy season also brings out a host of bugs.  The mosquitoes are especially bad this time of year with so much standing water.  Not only are they annoying, but very dangerous too as they are carriers of malaria which kills millions each year and is one of the leading causes of death in Sub-Saharan Africa.  As a family, we take preventative medication every day and so far have remained malaria free since arriving in Mali.

We’re also currently being overrun with grasshoppers with hundreds swarming on our front veranda each night.  Julie is also having a special battle in the kitchen with weevils in our flour.  She still gets creeped out every time she sifts them out of the flour and they make a mad dash looking for a new place to live and eat.

But our biggest concern right now is with Nairobi eye or blister beetles.  These are small bugs that contain a powerful acid.  When they are squished, they leave a acid on the skin that causes a very painful, burning rash that lasts for several days.  We need to be careful when we find one of these bugs, to resist the natural inclination to squish them.  Instead, we need to flick them off then kill them with a rag or tissue.  We have found quite a few of these critters in our house this week.  We’ve avoided the acid so far this year (we’ve all experienced rashes from them in past years), but it’s still very unsettling to have so many crawling freely about the house.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Good Tidings of Great Joy

Much like many of the stores in the States, we’re already shifting our focus on to Christmas.  In particular, a few days ago we shared a vision of a new Christmas outreach project for Bamako Christian Academy.  Thank you VERY much for your prayers!  Although the idea was originally met with some resistance, the school has decided to go ahead and take on this event!  We are excited about this new opportunity.  John in particular is busting at the seams to get started.  This is a wonderful example of some of the new ministries we’re moving into.

Each year, our school has traditionally done a Christmas program in English for the parents and families of the school.  Although it’s been fun and educational to put on a Christmas program each year, our idea is to move this event out of the closed environment of the past where we’ve been “preaching to the choir” that knows the Christmas story backwards and forwards.  Our idea this year is to move it into an outdoor, open-air event in our school neighborhood and share the Christmas message with our neighbors and community who have literally never heard it before.  We’ll be sharing traditional Christmas carols, acting out the Christmas story, and reading it from the French and Bambara Bible.  Our kids will also have a chance to learn a couple of Christmas songs in French and Bambara along with a few Christmas phrases.  We’ll also have translators on hand to help us in the presentation of the Christmas message.

This is going to be a wonderful opportunity to involve our kids in a local missions project and show them how they can actively share the Gospel with the people of Mali.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Melon Heads

BCA Fall Festival Watermellon Contest Yesterday, we celebrated our annual Fall Festival at Bamako Christian Academy (BCA).  We started with an international potluck lunch with parents and students bringing a special food that represents their home country.  This mini “Home Town Buffett” is always a treat and we get to try some new, interesting, and very tasty foods.  Next, we had a watermelon carving contest made up of teams from different regions of the world.  Pumpkins are tough to come by, so we use watermelons instead since we’re just entering watermelon season and they are plentiful.  We then follow-up with each family sponsoring a carnival game booth.  Our family traditionally hosts a Coke bottle ring toss which is always popular…perhaps it’s the thrill of wining a free bottle of Coke with each successful toss.

Friday, October 16, 2009

New Fall Season

We’re embarking on some new ministries.  We feel like we’re being called in a couple of new directions right now and we’re looking forward to seeing how they’re going to pan out.  Ironically enough, following our French studies this past summer, we’re suddenly facing some new opportunities in English based ministry.  We’re hoping for a good mixture of both English and French in the process.

John in particular is leaning towards working with MKs (missionary kids).  He is interested in helping them develop a heart for missions and learning how they can make some valuable contributions to working with Malians.  He has recently started doing regular chapel presentations and begun working with a student ministries team at Bamako Christian Academy (BCA) to help them develop and implement a missions vision.  He is also feeling led to help develop and teach a heath class at the school with a special focus on helping the kids understand puberty and many of the changes they are facing.

John also has a vision of doing some evangelism outreach projects with the kids.  He is most excited about doing a Christmas program outreach this year.  So far, this has met with a lot of resistance from the administration, teachers, and the few parents he’s talked to.  This has been a real discouragement.  He is going to continue pursuing it hoping it will gain acceptance as people have more time to think and pray about it.  Please be praying with us.  He has high hopes we can still pull this together for this year.

We’re also getting more involved in leading an English family Sunday school.  We’ve been somewhat involved in the past, but we feel we’re being called to be more active.  We have recently done a couple of drama presentations followed with some teaching and lessons.  They have been VERY well received and we’re looking forward to incorporating more.  We’ve discovered some neat tools, including an amazing team called The Skit Guys.  These guys are so gifted in what they do and are serving as a real inspiration to us.  Our current featured video is called “God’s Chisel”.  We had a lot of fun reenacting this as the opening class this year and it was an overwhelming success.

Last night we began a small group Bible study in our home.  It’s called Learning to Love People You Don’t Like.  It is a challenging topic for all of us.  Relational problems with other missionaries continues to be one of the leading reasons many missionaries end up leaving the mission field.  We’re hoping this study will help us and others better understand and practice the true definition of love that Jesus shares in the Bible.  We were a little disappointed that only 3 people showed up, but it went very well none-the-less.  We will continue promoting it and hope that our numbers will grow.

Stay tuned…we also have a couple of other new ministries on track ready to launch in the next few weeks.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

How Long Does It Take A Missionary To Change A Lightbulb?

[INSERT PUNCHLINE HERE]  Life in Africa can often turn the simplest tasks into huge challenges.  We have a special term for those things…WAWA (West Africa Wins Again) moments.  One of the big ministries we’re involved in is hospitality.  We have a guest room in our home that we affectionately call Baywatch Bed & Breakfast.  We enjoy hosting missionaries and other visitors and provide a place with a few special amenities and creature comforts they don’t normally have access to such as running water, electricity, a sit-down flushing toilet, hot water, air-conditioning, western meals, and English speaking companionship.

The other day we were preparing for guests when the light went out in our guest bathroom.  We tried replacing the light bulb with 3 spares we had on hand and none of them worked.  (We always test them at the store when we buy them as the failure rate is pretty high on new (Chinese) bulbs here.)  John dragged out a ladder and checked the light fixture and everything seemed to be okay.  The light in the guest bath is the only one in our house that uses a standard screw-in light bulb.  All the rest of our lights are big, ugly florescent garage type lights, so we couldn’t verify if the problem was the light fixture or the light bulb.  John went out looking for a replacement bulb and had to walk to 3 different stores to find one.  After an hour and a half, we finally had light in the guest bath again.  Ugh!  Never take the simplicity of changing a light bulb for granted.

Next will be the shower.  We imported a special hot water heater from England for our guest bath last year.  We ran it for a couple of weeks until it started a fire in our main electrical circuit box.  Our next big project is going to be running a special wire from the guest bath directly to our electric meter to bypass our sub-standard house wiring.  Oh…where is Home Depot when you need it!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mille Bornes

Memorial StonesWe have passed several big and exciting milestones the past few months.  We’ve decided to mark these and other special moments by creating physical memorial stones.  There are a couple of really cool stories in the Bible when people marked important places and and events with memorial stones.  In particular, Genesis 28:10-20 and Joshua 4:1-21 have served as an inspiration for us to mark these times and victories so we won’t forget them – especially when we’re lost in times of struggle and difficulty.

We’ve decided to take things a step further by painting our memorial stones.  We have had a lot of fun creating these.  In addition to reminding us, they have also been conversation pieces and opportunities to share about our blessings when people visit our home.

To date, we’ve painted rocks to mark the start of dedicated family times together each week, our summer trip to language school in Switzerland, our 20th wedding anniversary, and Cole’s 13th birthday which we also marked with a special right of passage party with several other families and boys his age a few weeks ago.

One of our favorite family games is a French card game called Mille Bornes (1,000 mile markers.)  We’ve enjoyed tying the theme of this game in with making our own mile markers.  TRIVIA:  When the French colonized Mali, one of the legacies they left behind were borne markers on the national roads.  They are placed every 5 kilometers to mark the distance to approaching towns.  If you receive our printed newsletter, see if you can find one of these bornes in our masthead picture at the top of the page that we’ve been using for the past 9 years…we’ve customized it a little to fit the title of our newsletter.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Spirits In The Material World

There are many definitions of the term “spiritual warfare” and different views of the spirit world.  We have come face-to-face with some very strong spiritual forces of late.  Ephesians 6:12 has taken on a very real meaning in our lives and ministry.  Throughout the past few weeks, we have become witnesses to the strength and power of the spiritual world both in terms of good and evil.  We have a whole new understanding of the Holy Spirit and His role and influence in our lives.  The Holy Spirit has played an instrumental part in the restoration of our marriage and ministry.  On the opposite side, we have also had some very real encounters with Satan and his evil spirits.  On one night in particular a couple of weeks ago, we were so disturbed that we needed to get rid of an African shadowbox picture that had been hanging in our house and had been identified as something containing evil spirits.  We literally took it outside our house and burned it at 3 o’clock in the morning to help rid our home of evil spirits.  Unfortunately, it didn’t end there.

This past weekend, we had an even closer encounter where actual verbal battles took place with spirits in our home.  This is a difficult and controversial topic for a lot of people so we won’t go into a lot of detail.  We’ll just summarize by saying we have a much different and very real view of the spirit world now.  We see things in a completely new light and have a lot more respect for what spiritual warfare means.  While it wasn’t played out in the Hollywood portrayal like the Exorcist, Ghost Busters, or Poltergeist, we did get very close and saw some very real manifestations of spirits.  We had the strength to see the situation through and with God’s help, we were able to declare victory and literally clean house and cast them out.  It was not pretty, it was not easy, and it’s something we don’t want to see again.  However we were never scared or felt it beyond our control because of the authority we have in Christ.  We feel much stronger now as we know that we will have ultimate victory if and when we encounter this type of situation again.  It also becomes one of our primary calls for assistance from you, our prayer warriors.  You play an extremely important role in helping with these battles.

What’s In A Name?

Pierre We have a young man working for us as a guardian and caretaker.  His name is (was) TiDiane (pronounced T-John).  He’s a wonderful Christian young man that is very involved in ministry and his church in Magnambougou.  Unfortunately, he’s been living with some very difficult and dangerous circumstances.  His father is a very big and well respected imam (Islamic leader…similar to a pastor in a Christian church.)  He is responsible for leading and teaching in several different mosques and villages.  In addition, he serves in the capacity of a powerful witchdoctor.

TiDiane has been in the process of being groomed by his father to follow in his footsteps to become an Islamic leader.  At an early age, he was taught to read and write Arabic and learn and memorize the Qur’an.  Not too long ago, TiDiane’s brother became a Christian and soon led TiDiane to Christ also.  This really upset their father who began by throwing them out of the house and cutting them off from the family.  Over the past several months, their father’s heart has softened and he has gradually been accepting his sons back.  But in the process, he is still making the lives of his sons very difficult and often threatens them with injury and death.  They are both living back in the family compound but are not allowed to live in the house.  It’s a very complicated relationship we don’t quite understand.  Their father is especially troubled about TiDiane as he had such high aspirations for him being a Muslim leader.  He has placed several curses on TiDiane which have resulted in physical injuries to TiDiane. 

Several days ago, TiDiane was late arriving at our house.  He came in limping and had a lot of difficulty walking.  He explained that his father had cursed his knee the night before.  John sat down with TiDiane and prayed with him.  He specifically prayed for his knee and placed his hands on him during prayer.  After praying, they talked more about the situation.  John was curious why TiDiane seems to be a bigger disappointment to his father than his brother who led him to the Lord.  TiDiane explained how his father had been investing in his spiritual development as an Islamic leader.  He also talked in detail about his name.  TiDiane is just his “short” name.  He has a very long and complex Muslim name with each name a reflection of the power and authority his father has vested in him.  Upon hearing this, John felt led to free TiDiane of this bond.  He gave him a new Christian name of Pierre (Peter) and shared Matthew 16:17-19 with him.  Pierre’s face instantly lit up.  He began thanking John.  Suddenly he stopped, and looked down at his leg.  He began freely bending his knee back and forth then began walking around in circles.  He looked at John and said, “Je suis guéri!”  (I am healed!)  He continued walking around and saying it over and over.  He said all the pain was instantly gone and his knee felt normal.

Pierre is very proud of his new name and is eager to share it with everyone he talks to now.  This is one of those missionary stories you read about in books or magazines.  We never thought we’d be experiencing things like this first hand in our life and ministry.  What an exciting opportunity this has been for us!

Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a young boy from next door constantly in our compound whenever Pierre is here.  Pierre seems to have adopted him like a young brother.  The boy rarely leaves Pierre’s side and is eager to help Pierre work around our house and yard.  They often sit down and Pierre has been spending countless hours sharing the Bible (in Bambara) with the boy teaching him about Jesus.  Please be praying for Pierre (especially his situation with his father) and Bakary, the young boy that he’s currently teaching and shepherding. 

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Good, The Bad,& The Ugly

Yes…it’s been a long time since we’ve posted an update to the blog.  Thank you for your continued interest and prayers.  The last month has been very busy and overwhelming for us on many different levels.  We have been going through a lot of extreme circumstances…both good and bad.  These back-to-back highs and lows have been very confusing to us.  This is when we need to be communicating with you the most, but we’ve been too caught up in our circumstances to take the time to sit down for a few minutes and share.  Quite honestly, we’ve been waiting for things to stabilize enough for us to understand them ourselves and be able to communicate what’s happening.  And in the middle of it all, we’ve been launching into several new projects and ministries.

There is no way we can summarize everything, but we’ll try to catch up with a few highlight posts over the next few days.  Please rest assured that we are physically safe and sound.  But we have become ever aware of the huge spiritual battle we’re involved in.  Please continue praying.  We feel things are beginning to settle down a bit and we’re regaining our vision now that the dust is starting to clear.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Naked and Unashamed

We have recently had the joy of celebrating and sharing our 20th Wedding Anniversary.  Because of many different ministry commitments, we’ve been limited to celebrating off and on without the ability to stop and focus on this milestone.  We felt this is a significant enough event and our marriage is too important to let this pass as a side note wedged in and overshadowed by other activities.  We considered getting away (unfortunately, we were so consumed by our language school schedule in Switzerland that we couldn’t take time out to celebrate while we were there) but finances and circumstances prevented that.  So we made it a point to schedule a special 4 day weekend alone at home.  We made arrangements for Cole to stay with friends then we locked our front gate, gave our guardian the weekend off, and most importantly, shut off our telephones and computers. This allowed us to go into complete hiding for 4 days.  We enjoyed the time leading up to this with lots of reflections and memories of our wedding day and other special moments.  We had been really looking forward to this weekend, expecting time focused on romance and intimacy together.  What we found was that God had something much deeper planned.

Many people assume we live a Brady Bunch family life and our marriage is healthy, perfect, and without struggles and sin because we are missionaries involved in full-time Christian ministry. Truth be told, our marriage has been suffering for years.  Although we’ve been seeking God on this issue, we now realize we had been listening to a lot of voices which weren’t His.  We have also been reluctant to let Him truly intervene.  Several months ago, we were in a really deep valley and cried out in desperation to Him.  He responded by leading us to an amazing set of articles on the Internet called The Overcoming Marriage by Focus on the Family.  In God’s perfect timing, our study finished this weekend and with it we received some amazing revelations.

In the past, we found we have been focusing on specific issues including anger, bitterness, hopelessness, blame, shame, and manipulation.  We have spent years pointing fingers at each other trying to correct these flaws and hurts.  What we have recently discovered is that these things are not the cause but rather the result of past sins.

Throughout the study, we discovered that what we have been dealing with over the years can be traced back before our marriage to unhealthy and sinful lifestyles we had been living.  This polluted our marriage from the very beginning.  We began to understand for the first time many of the lies we’ve been living under and the false foundations that our marriage has been built on that have led to many recurring problems and conflicts.

Although we’ve talked about these things in the past and have long considered them as being behind us, we came to realize that we had simply swept things under the rug and never really dealt with these sins in the proper way.  And Satan has been using these sins against us for a long, long time, wrapping them in lies of hopelessness and masking them in many different ways.  Throughout our study, we have been undergoing a big process of exposing these lies and bringing them out of the darkness into the light where we can see them and understand what they are for the first time.  This led to a lot of confessions accompanied by forgiveness (from God and each other) and a whole new understanding of God’s grace.

Our marriage has been tainted by past sins that were committed both before and after our wedding day.  Our relationship was wrought out of a lifestyle of promiscuous behaviors and sexual sins that led to us living together before we were married.  This carried on into a very painful season early in our marriage.  The amount of baggage that has been loading us down for the past 20 years has been nothing short of overwhelming.  But through lots of prayer, tears, outpouring, repentance, and cleansing these burdens have finally been lifted and left at the foot of the cross which has led to genuine transformation.

Our original honeymoon (which was literally planned around a bowling tournament in Las Vegas) was the first indication of the missteps in our relationship.  What was supposed to be a joyful beginning of our marriage became instead a painful week filled with confusion, heartache and conflict.

The anniversary weekend we just shared was literally transformed into the honeymoon we never experienced.  Now that God has been placed into the rightful center of our marriage, we have discovered great freedom.  We are now able to share in new levels of trust, love, and truth.  For the first time, we have been able to experience the intimacy of a genuine union that we have been seeking since the beginning of our relationship.  We have now found sanctuary in each other rather than a battleground of adversity.  We are in awe and wonder of how God has preserved our marriage and continued to hold us together in His grace despite our human weaknesses and failings.  Today we are truly celebrating what God has done with our marriage.  His power of restoration has blessed us with new levels of romance and intimacy that we could have never found on our own.

The Bible study that has been such a powerful tool in reclaiming our marriage concluded with God’s original intent for us to stand together naked and unashamed…free from the bonds of guilt that have been strangling our relationship since the beginning.  Miraculously a new couple’s devotional study we’ve just started opens up with the identical phrase of living a life together “naked and unashamed”.

We have traveled a very long and important journey the past few months but realize the process is far from over.  We have already experienced new trials and attacks from Satan.  But we are now much better equipped to expose his lies and remain rooted in the truth of God’s Word.  We are not fireproof nor exempt from Satan’s barrage of deception and accusations.  This is a reminder of how much we need your prayers and support as we are stand in the midst of a huge battle.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Snail Mail – Part 2

Bethal Baptist Church - Bamako This past Sunday our YWAM Bamako team visited a Baptist church in our neighborhood and shared in their worship service.  Our team presented a couple of worship songs and Issouf (our team leader) was the guest preacher for the morning.  It is always an enjoyable experience to visit a new church and encourage a group of fellow Christians.

On Sunday night, John preached the message at the English Fellowship Service in downtown Bamako.  It was a challenging message about our call to serve and not be served.

Before church on Sunday morning, one of our collegues gave us a small package they had picked up from the post office a few days ago.  This one had a post mark of January 24th.  Judging from the routing stamps, it looked like it paid a visit to a couple of other African countries along the way.  As an added bonus, it had been opened and resealed.  It still isn’t the birthday package John has been expecting, but once again it gave us renewed hope that it’s still on its way.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Snail Mail

A few weeks ago, we posted a blog entry from Switzerland talking about the amazingly fast and efficient postal system and how we received an order placed on the Internet less than 15 hours after we placed it.  Now let’s contrast that to Mali.  Yesterday, we received notice of a package waiting at the post office.  We haven’t been expecting anything, so we weren’t sure what this “surprise” package would be.  It turned out to be an online order for a Christmas gift we purchased for Cole last year!  We had long since written it off as lost and haven’t thought much about it.  The package was shipped from the UK and was postmarked November 24, 2008 – 9-1/2 months ago.  It’s faster to receive a baby than a package sometimes.  ;-)  Since Christmas isn’t that far away, we’ve decided to save it and give it to him this year.

Not everything takes this long to reach us.  Most of our mail and packages arrive within 2 – 4 weeks.  But sometimes things get lost in the post office or make special “side trips” throughout Africa.  John is still waiting for a birthday package that was supposed to arrive in March.  This gives us renewed hope that it’s still out there somewhere and maybe it will arrive someday.

Monday, September 07, 2009

And The Walls Came Tumbling Down

Fallen Wall We are deep in the midst of rainy season in Mali…something we know would be REALLY helpful for the fires in California right now.  We have had some pretty good storms since we’ve arrived back.  There is a small river that runs through our neighborhood.  A few months ago, we were amazed to see work crews moving the river about 20 feet to make room for a new building project.  In the process, the landscape around the river was changed dramatically and built up to make a more suitable plot of land to build on.  Several walls were also put up to cordon off the area.

Low and behold, a few days ago we had a really big storm and the water runoff tried to regain its path to the old river site.  Unfortunately, the landscape and road had been raised by a couple of feet and several walls had been built which blocked the runoff from reaching the new river.  The water continued to build and the area was soon under several feet of water and many people were trapped on their rooftops.  The water persisted and eventually won.  Several of the new walls were destroyed, including the walls of a nearby cemetery.  It also destroyed several houses in the area.  There is evidence the runoff tried to follow the old path of the river and washed away a lot of the newly built up area as it worked to regain its original route.

A healthy rainy season is vital to the farm based economy of Mali.  But too much at one time can bring catastrophic results.  Much of West Africa is currently suffering from flooding conditions.  That hasn’t reached Mali yet, but what we’ve seen the past week in our neighborhood points to that possibility.  Please join us in praying for an abundant, but not overwhelming rainy season.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Love Boat

Wedding Photo - John and Julie Clark Today we celebrate our 20th Wedding Anniversary!  We were married 20 years ago in Long Beach Harbor aboard the sailing ship Spirit.  It’s wonderful to reflect back on that day and everything that’s happened since.  It feels like we’ve lived 3 complete lifetimes since then.  20 years ago we could never have imagined that we’d be living in West Africa as missionaries.  But we are overjoyed and in awe of where the Lord has been bringing us.  We know this is still the beginning and we’re looking forward to finding out what still lies ahead.

John gave Julie a special gift this year of a 20th anniversary DVD edition of our wedding video.  He has spent the last year working on it from 3 different continents.  A giant thank you goes out to everyone who had a hand in helping bring this project together.  What a beautiful way to look back on one of the highlights of our life…from the time we boarded the boat to our helicopter getaway.  Besides our wedding video, there are several special features on the DVD including slideshows of all of our wedding photos and people’s snapshots of the day.  One of these slideshows is our currently featured video this week.  Please click here to view it.

If you were at our wedding and shared this special day with us, please leave us a message by clicking on comment link below this blog post.  We’d LOVE to hear your thoughts too…from sunburns and windblown hair to groovin’ to the wedding march as it was being played on steel drums.  What are some of your special memories?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

When Two Worlds Collide

We were only back from Switzerland for a few days before we really hit the road running.  Julie and Cole are back in school and fully involved in Bamako Christian Academy.  John spent several days working with a short-term team that came out to visit a Malian Christian school project they’ve been working with.  This team is not associated with YWAM or any other projects or churches we’ve been involved with but it’s always wonderful to reach out and help new people.  John acted as their guide and accompanied them on many visits to their school in a village just outside of Bamako.  He also made arrangements for translators, transportation, and other needs of the team.

Unfortunately, we found out late in their visit that the team’s vision and goals were much different from ours and we ended up parting ways.  Much against the pleas from us and several pastors, they overstepped some very big cultural and ministry boundaries and caused quite a bit of damage not only to their project, but to the overall image of missions and Christianity in Mali.  At one point, we were faced with an angry mob and had to literally flee a village from a large group of people that wanted to talk with the team.  But even more sadly, the team is dealing with their issues contrary to how the Church and Christian community in Mali has advised.  Their actions have seriously damaged the name of Christianity here and have the potential to set back the work of the Church in Mali by years.

The team has since left, but there is a lot of hurt left behind.  Please be praying with us that we can be part of a healing process.  Also, please keep this team in prayer as they left Mali very bitter and angry.  Pray they can find peace, healing, and forgiveness.   We also need the same.  We have been very hurt by what’s transpired over the past several days.  This situation has come at a very inopportune time.  In addition to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan just beginning, there is currently a lot of unrest in Mali.  All missionaries have been evacuated from the north of Mali and there are large protests happening around the country.  We do not fear for our safety at this time.  We would like to see it stay that way.

One positive thing that has come out of this has been a test of our new French skills.  As we’ve been sharing this issue and seeking counsel with our YWAM leadership, we feel we’ve been able to effectively communicate in French everything that’s been happening.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Teen Beat

Cole_Angel We’re still in denial that Cole turned 13 today!  It’s hard to believe he’s a teenager already.  We are proud of our son and the way he is growing up and maturing.  He was just turning 5 when we first landed in Mali, so he’s spent a majority of his life in Africa.  Today was also the first day of school for him and Julie.  Cole was reunited with one of his classmates from his kindergarten class who returned to Mali this year with his family.  He is also really excited about taking algebra this year.

Stay tuned…our next big family milestone is just a couple of weeks away when we celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary.  Where has the time gone?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Got Milk?

One of the things we’re already missing from Switzerland is fresh milk.  We had not had real milk since last summer.  In Mali, we use powdered milk, and only sparingly due to the taste and consistency.  We can also get UTC milk from France, but again, it’s very different from fresh, pasteurized milk.

We’ve been busy unpacking, getting our house back in order, and visiting with a lot of our friends.  It is traditional in Malian culture to visit someone when they return from a trip.  We’ve had a lot of people coming and going the past couple of days.  We’ve also been busy distributing gifts which is another cultural tradition.  We brought back a lot of chocolate to share with our friends.  We also brought back a few Swiss Army knives for some special people.  Many of our Malian friends have not seen one before and are amazed at all the tools in one place.  It’s fun to see the look on their faces as we show them all the various tools.  We were also blessed with some baseball caps by one of the computer stores John worked with.  A clerk gave us about 20 hats with their store’s logo (STEG Computers) to distribute to our African friends.

Yesterday, John also delivered the equipment he purchased to the pastors and organizations that requested it.  They were very happy to receive new computers, projectors, printers, and digital cameras to help support their ministries and be able to more effectively share the Gospel with others.  John really enjoyed providing this service.

John also has one friend in particular who visits him at our home every week.  He is a refugee from Congo that is having trouble finding work and supporting his family in Mali.  We’ve been able to give him a few small jobs here and there, but he really needs something more stable.  John found out he was a barber a couple of weeks before we left for Switzerland and helped encourage him to look for work in local barber and beauty shops.  But unfortunately, he doesn’t have any of his own equipment so he can’t get a job.  We were very fortunate to find a nice haircutting kit (electric clippers, combs, scissors, etc.) in Switzerland for 1/2 price and brought it back for him.  John presented it to him yesterday.  He was really excited and eager to begin looking for work with his new tools.  Ironically, John obviously won’t be taking advantage of his services.  Please keep Patrick in your prayers that the Lord will lead him to the ideal shop to begin work immediately.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

You Are Now Free To Roam About The Cabin

Air_France_ Afrique_Occid_Equat_V_Guerra_1948 We arrived back home in Bamako, Mali last night at 8:00pm local time.  The weather was a very pleasant 85° F.  It wasn’t staggering and hot, but a nice welcome home to Africa.  We were met at the airport by Issouf, our YWAM Bamako base leader.  It was a wonderful reunion with much more to talk about now that we’ve expanded our language skills a bit.

The trip was very pleasant and uneventful.  We were very thankful that Isabelle Clot (our house hostess) offered to drive us to the train station in Neuchâtel eliminating one train connection and a long hike uphill with our luggage in Montmollin.  We had a movie-like send-off in the train station with Hermine who met us to bid au revoir.  The biggest stress point of our trip was loading all of our 11 pieces of luggage on the train in the 40 second time that it is in the station.  But we made it and the rest of our trip was flawless.  We traveled from Neuchâtel to the Geneva airport by train, took a short 1 hour flight from Geneva to Paris, followed by a 5 hour flight from Paris to Bamako.

We are very happy that all of our luggage made it through.  We were a bit concerned with all the computer and electronic equipment we brought back for some pastors.  But all the boxes came through just fine and nothing was stopped or questioned by customs officials in Mali which is often the case.  We also loaded up an ice chest of chocolate, cheese, and sausages.  Thankfully everything was still cold even after 12 hours of travel.

We were very blessed to walk into our house that had been freshly cleaned a couple of days ago.  No ant colonies, no termite mounds, and no layers of dirt and dust.  Our cat was extremely happy to see us as was Cole to see him.  We slept very well last night and are looking forward to a couple of days of rest in between the unpacking and salutations from our African friends.

Monday, August 10, 2009

And They Lived Happily Ever After

Neuchatel Castle All good stories must come to an end and it’s time to close the book on this chapter of our lives.  It’s hard to believe that the time has passed so quickly.  We are very sad to say goodbye to Switzerland.  But we’re leaving feeling refreshed and much better equipped to communicate in French.  It has been a true blessing to discover this little corner of the globe.  We have been living in a fairytale setting and literally walking in the shadows of the Neuchâtel castle almost every day.  We have awoken to sheep bells and cowbells ringing each morning like wind chimes and glance out our window at Lake Neuchâtel on one side and the forest on the other.  Our days have begun much like Belle in Beauty and the Beast walking through the village and hearing, “Bonjour, Bonjour, Bonjour, Bonjour, Bonjour.”  It’s been such a wonderful experience, but it’s time to return to our home in yet another fascinating yet very different part of the world in West Africa.  We are eager to be in our own home again and sleep in our own beds.  We return to Bamako tomorrow (Tuesday).  Thank you again for being a part of this phase of our ministry.  Please continue to check in here for regular updates on our ministry in Mali.  We already have several things lined up and we’re going to hit the ground running with very little time to recover.  Please keep us in prayer as make this transition.

Pour tous nos nouveaux amis de Neuchâtel, merci pour votre hospitalité et l'amitié.  Vous avez été une véritable bénédiction pour notre famille. S'il vous plaît continuer à rester en contact avec nous.  Dieu vous bénisse!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

School’s Out!

inlingua Wow, we made it!  We had our final French class on Friday.  We are very happy with how things have gone.  We have learned so much and are eager to begin applying it in Mali.  Because we have taken in so much information in such a short time, we have a lot to sort through as we search for the proper words and grammar structure when we speak.  The important thing is our family has developed new habits in adopting and using French.  The anxiety we once felt has faded and we’ve gained a new sense of confidence in speaking.

  It has been especially exciting to hear Cole open up and speak French.  We’ve had suspicions that he knew a lot more than he had been letting on, but we’ve never witnessed it.  He is probably the strongest speaker in our family and he’s really helping a lot with our French exercises.  We are really proud of him.  It was a big sacrifice for him to spend his summer vacation in language school.  But he’s happy he joined us and has been learning alongside us as a family.  He was also the teacher’s pet in most of our classes and gained special favor and received small gifts from them along the way.  He is especially “gifted” in correcting our family’s pronunciation and grammar errors when we’re speaking with him and others.  But hey, you can’t correct mistakes if you don’t know you’re making them.  We’re glad we have someone who’s not shy about helping us.  We hope our friends in Mali will extend the same grace and assistance.

As we reflect on this trip, it has turned out to be everything we were hoping it would be.  One of the things we’ve been especially pleased with is that everyone has spoken French with us.  As we’ve gone about our day-to-day activities, there hasn’t been any indication from people that they have difficulty understanding us, nor have we had many problems understanding others.  From friends at church to complete strangers, everyone has been treating us like French is a natural language to us.  No one has asked what our native language is and then switched to English to make things easier.  This happened to us a lot in Paris a few months ago.  Perhaps that’s the nature of Switzerland.  Because there are four different languages officially spoken here, French is a second (or third) language for a large part of the population.  So we fit right in with the Swiss Germans and Swiss Italians.  In fact, most of our classmates at Inlingua have been Swiss who are needing to learn French.

Thank you for your involvement, prayers, and support in this phase of our ministry.  But please don’t stop.  Now we really need your help.  We’ve just taken the first step in really adopting French and we still have a long road ahead of us.  We’re looking forward to sharing about a whole new level of ministry experiences with our new French tools.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Remain Seated Please. Permanecer sentados por favor.

Bobsledding Cole Yesterday we spent the afternoon with Jean-Patrick, Ruth and Emmanuel Perrin.  Jean-Patrick is the regional director for YWAM West Africa and serves with us in Bamako.  The Perrins are very good friends of ours and have played a vital role in our ministry in Mali.  Even more so, the have been wonderful councilors and teachers to us.  Their family is Swiss (along with French and Malian citizenship too) and are in Switzerland for a couple of weeks for a family wedding.  They invited us to their family’s home in the village of Fleurier about a half-hour train ride from Neuchâtel.  We took a wonderful walk through the fields and forest surrounding the village.  There is a ski area not too far outside the village and a bobsled attraction operates year round.  Cole and Emmanuel enjoyed riding it several times.  Emmanuel is Cole’s age and they get along very well.

We had a wonderful outdoor dinner (on one of the 5 days it hasn’t rained) of grilled sausages and cheese.  Many Swiss families live in large houses with different members of the extended family residing in their own apartments on each floor of the house.  At the Perrin’s, home we met Jean-Patrick’s parents along with his sister and her family.  We had a great time getting to know all of them.

Jean-Patrick and Ruth speak fluent English and we’ve usually communicated with them in English in the past.  This is the first time we’ve really sat down and talked with them in French.  When it was time to go, we asked Jean-Patrick if he noticed any improvement in our language.  He said yes… a big improvement.  It was very encouraging to hear someone who is close to us say they recognize a change in our French ability.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Climb Every Mountain

Funiculaire de Chaumont Between our class time and homework, we’re doing as much sightseeing as we can.  Today we took yet another funicular to a small village named Chaumont at the top of a mountain overlooking Lake Neuchâtel.  The funicular ride was about 15 minutes and we climbed about 1000 feet in altitude in the process.  The other funiculars we’ve ridden have been much shorter and function automatically.  This one had an operator who controlled the speed of our trip as we traversed some pretty steep slopes and crossed over a couple of harrowing bridges.  At times it felt like we were on a roller coaster.  When we reached the top, we explored a little bit of the forest along with climbing to the top of a lighthouse at the peak of the mountain for a stunning view of 3 lakes in the area.

Hermine and Wycliff Friends We’ve made a lot of new friends and have been blessed by the friendship and hospitality of the people we’ve met here.  We have especially enjoyed several visits with a wonderful woman named Hermine who has invited us to her house for a meal each week.  She acts as a liaison for the missionaries visiting Neuchâtel with a special interest for those taking language classes at Inlingua.   She has been instrumental in helping us from the very beginning aiding via email as we planned our trip from Mali.  She has been wonderful in her help for getting us registered for the school and finding housing.  We’ve been joined at her house by some Wycliffe missionaries that are also studying French at Inlingua.  They are here for 6 more months and will be serving in Cameroon when they finish their classes.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Swan Lake

Swan - Lake Neuchatel We are surrounded by so much beauty in Switzerland!  We have especially enjoyed working on our homework by the shore of Lake Neuchâtel.  As if the beauty of the lake with the Alps in the background weren’t enough, we have the added bonus of enjoying the grandeur of wild swans that live around the lake. But we have been warned that as stunning as they are to look at, they can be quite dangerous.  They are very strong and powerful and are able to break an arm using their neck.  So we continue to admire them from a distance.

We are going to miss the amazing things we’ve discovered and the opportunity to experience the Swiss lifestyle the past few weeks.  It’s hard to believe that our time is quickly drawing to a close.  We are down to less than a week.  We leave for Mali next Tuesday morning.  But we are looking forward to being back home and being able to experience a new dimension of life in Mali with our expanded French skills.

Thank you for your prayers and support while we’ve been here.  We’re very happy to report that Cole is feeling much better.  He has shed all symptoms of being sick and has been able to fully participate in school and other activities.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Running Like Clockwork

Swiss Train Clock - Montmollin We are reminded every day of the Swiss obsession of time and precision when looking at the clocks throughout the train stations.  The Swiss train clocks are world famous and have a distinctive look and function.  Each clock is synchronized to a master clock once every minute so they all display the exact time no matter which station we’re in or what clock we’re looking at.  The most interesting feature is the second hand which only takes 58 seconds to travel around the dial.  As part of the synchronization process, the second hand pauses on the 12 at the top of each minute as it waits for a special pulse from the master clock that advances the minute hand and starts the second hand again.

The Neuchâtel region of Switzerland is known as Watch Valley and is home to the most prestigious watch makers in the world.  In some of the factories, it can take up to 3 weeks for a watchmaker to painstakingly assemble just the face of a single watch.  The work is done with microscopic  tools with the watchmakers viewing their work through special glasses and intense magnifying glasses.  When we think of a fine quality watch, Rolex is usually the name that comes to most people’s minds…a symbol of fine craftsmanship with a price tag to match.  But in reality, Rolex is considered on the low to medium scale of watch quality in Switzerland.

Automates - Trio Yesterday, we had another opportunity to view an example of Swiss precision.  We visited a special collection of the Jaquet-Droz Automates at the Neuchâtel Museum of Art and History.  Pierre Jaquet-Droz was a famous Swiss watchmaker in the 18th century.  In his fascination of micro machinery, he created 3 robotic dolls that can do some amazing things.  From 1768 to 1774, he made a total of 3 automates.  L’Ecrivain (writer), can handwrite a message of up to 40 characters on a small piece of paper.  Keep in mind, this was made long before the invention of the ballpoint pen, so he uses a quill which he stops and dips in an inkwell periodically during this writing session.  The message can be changed at will by setting a special disk inside the automate.  Le Dessinateur (draftsman) can draw a small picture of a dog, a chariot being pulled by a butterfly, an English royal couple, or a portrait of Louis XV.  La Musicienne (musician) is a woman that plays a small pipe organ.  Her hands move up and down the keyboard with each finger depressing the keys as she plays a complex piece of music.  In addition, her head and chest move as she appears to breathe.

Automate Workings The automates are only demonstrated once a month, so we’ve been anticipating this visit throughout our stay.  A Swiss clockmaker maintains them and wound each one up and demonstrated how each one works.  He also opened the back so we could see the elaborate clockworks inside and explained the history, details, and workings of each figure.  This was an extra test of our French comprehension.

There is a lot of history behind the name of our blog (6892 Miles From Disneyland).  Walt Disney and his creations (predominately Disneyland) were a central part in our lives before heading to the mission field.  John was especially versed in the history of Walt Disney and his creation of Audioanimatronic figures like Abraham Lincoln and the Pirates of the Caribbean.  In the early days of developing this technology, Walt and his team created The Dancing Man.  This figure is in a box  and stands about 4 feet tall. There is a lot of machinery that controls a small puppet man that is programmed to dance.  It is housed in the Disney archives and is not on display to the public.  We did have a chance to see it several years ago during a special Disney historical exposition.  Now we realize that Walt Disney was actually 200 years behind his time and the Jaquet-Droz automates are far superior in their design and function.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Say Cheese

Monk's Head Cutter There has been no shortage of opportunities to eat cheese in Switzerland.  We’ve been introduced to several new kinds cheese and styles of eating it.  Neuchâtel is famous for a cheese named Tête de Moin, or Monk’s Head cheese.  It is served with a special cutting machine that creates very thin slices and forms them into a flower shape.  Unlike the US, there is no yellow cheese in Switzerland.  All the cheeses are white or light brown in color.  We’ve asked several people what kind of cheese we call Swiss Cheese in the States is and no one’s been able to come up with an answer.  Even Wikipedia refers to Swiss Cheese as a generic name for several related varieties of cheese.  In all, there’s really nothing Swiss about it.  We’re also learning many new ways to serve cheese and have had several versions of fondue.  Last night, we had dinner with the Clot family (our hosts) as part of the Swiss National Day celebration.  They served cheese fondue formed by melting the edge of a large cheese wheel on a vertical BBQ grill then hand shaved off onto a plate and served with baked potatoes and other vegetables.  It was WONDERFUL!

Montmollin 1 Aout Fete Unfortunately, Cole wasn’t feeling well enough to join us.  We decided not to go into Neuchâtel, but to join the Clot family for the local Montmollin festival instead.  At 8:00 pm, the bells at town hall summoned us to the start of the festival.  We walked to a picnic area overlooking Lake Neuchâtel where the villages of Montmollin and Montezillion gathered together for a festive village celebration.  There were many picnic tables set up and the adults sat and talked while traditional Swiss orchestra and accordion music played over a sound system.  Several people had colorful handheld candlelit Chinese lanterns which are another traditional part of the August 1st celebration.  Bonfire We were served a dinner of bean soup and bread accompanied by wine and soft drinks.  In the meantime, the village kids and teens were lighting off skyrockets and fireworks all around.  One of the village officials welcomed us, then a young teen girl active in local politics gave a short patriotic speech.   We all then sang the Swiss national anthem.  At 10 o’clock, it was dark enough for the village to launch its own fireworks show right above our heads!  Once the show was over, a large traditional bonfire was lit and we stood around it as we watched fireworks shows from Neuchâtel and other villages around the lake.  It wonderful to be Swiss for a day.

This morning on the way to church, we could see the picnic area from the train station and the bonfire was still burning but had dwindled to size a small campfire.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Serving You Since 1291

Salutations de Suisse Today is Swiss National Day, the day Switzerland celebrates its independence and sovereignty as a country.  The first celebration was in 1891 to mark Switzerland’s 600th anniversary when the Federal Charter was formed in 1291.  Fireworks are one of the most traditional ways to celebrate.  Because August 1st falls on a Saturday this year, the celebrations are happening all weekend.  Last night from our house in the hills overlooking Lake Neuchâtel, we were able to see 7-8 different fireworks shows launched from different villages around the lake.  Tonight we will be heading into Neuchâtel to watch a big fireworks show on the lake and take part in festivities in town.  It’s also traditional for kids to march through the streets at night with paper lanterns to mark the occasion.  Alphorns Because Switzerland is such a mix of different cultures, there are many different ways to celebrate.  There are traditional music festivals including accordion music, polka, yodeling, and alpine horns.  There are also flag twirlers (much like high school flag teams) that dance and spin Swiss flags.

Switzerland is a complicated country with a rich and diverse history.  The official name is the Swiss Confederation or Confoederatio Helvetica.  Its international abbreviation is CH.  Switzerland is made up of 26 cantons, or states.  The population is 7.7 million people.  It is multilingual with 4 different languages being officially recognized as national languages:  German, French, Italian, and Romansh.  The government is democratic.  The Swiss Parliament oversees the country.  The Federal Council is a board of 7 members which act collectively as the head of state.  One of these seven members is elected as the President of the Confederation.  The President serves a one year term.

Matterhorn Interesting facts on Switzerland:  It is one of only a few countries whose flag is square rather than rectangular.  Switzerland has not been involved in an international war since 1815; avoiding both WWI and WWII.  It hosts many international organizations including the International Red Cross, the International Olympic Committee, and the World Trade Organization.  Switzerland is not a member of the European Union.  Switzerland is close to 16,000 sq/miles.  Around 60% of this area is comprised of the Alps.  Two of the more famous peaks are Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn.  The Matterhorn is 14,692 feet high.  Disneyland’s Matterhorn is a replica scaled back to 1/100th-scale.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Speedy Delivery

A pastor in Mali has been given some money to purchase an ensemble of computer and office equipment for his ministry.  Because this is one of John’s areas of expertise, he has asked John to help.  Computers are expensive in Mali, so we have been looking for his equipment here in Switzerland.  The prices and selection aren’t as good as in the States, however they are much better than Mali and it will be cheaper and easier for us to bring things back in our luggage rather that having it shipped from the U.S.  John has spent a lot of time scanning ads and visiting many stores to find the best equipment and prices.  It turns out, there is a very good on-line resource in Switzerland and he’s been able to order everything online and have it delivered to our house.  He did have to overcome the challenge of the website being primarily in German, a language used equally if not more here in Switzerland than French.  But he managed to get everything the pastor is looking for at a good price.  We continue to be amazed by the efficiency of things in Switzerland.  John placed the bulk of the computer order yesterday at 3:00pm our time.  At 7:00 this morning, the mailman was knocking on our door with the order in hand!  Oh yes…let’s not forget the site offered free delivery!  If you’re ever in Switzerland and in need of computer equipment, be sure to check out www.internet.ch.  We give them a very high recommendation.

Cole has been sick with a cold and the flu this week.  He’s been able to make it to a couple of classes, but for the most part, he’s been sick and miserable.  Please keep him in your prayers.  Our schedule is going to be increasing as our time in Switzerland is beginning to run out.  This weekend in particular is going to be extra busy as this Saturday is Switzerland’s independence day.  It’s celebrated with all the hype and activity associated with the 4th of July in the States and we’re expecting a pretty full social calendar.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

French Kissing

French is a very complicated language.  To begin with, every verb is conjugated or changed depending on the pronoun (I, You, Them, We, etc.) it’s used with.  There are 6 different basic pronouns meaning there are six different basic conjugations for every verb.  Now add to this 14 different tenses for each verb.  This essentially means there are 84 different versions for every verb!  Looking up a word in an English/French dictionary just gives the root verb…now it’s up to us to figure out how to change it into one of the 84 forms needed to communicate what we want to say.  Needless to say, it takes a lot of time and effort to understand.  And this is just the beginning!  From there, things just continue to escalate and get more complicated.  As you can see, it can be very overwhelming, but we’re still keeping our heads above water.

We’re continuing with our French immersion lifestyle by speaking French from 6:00am to 6:00pm even when we’re alone as a family.  We created a little family game in which we all carry special cards in our pockets with our name on them.  If someone is caught speaking English, they surrender a card.  At the end of the day, the cards are counted up.  A verb is assigned for each card and the person needs to write out the six basic conjugations for each verb.  This game has really helped curb the laziness factor of reverting to English now and then.  Cole has really taken it seriously and even made his own gendarme (police) badge to help enforce our rules.  

There are no shortages of other ways to practice our French.  We have a lot of new friends who we enjoy talking with and building our vocabulary, comprehension, and speaking skills.  Although many of these people can speak English, they’re helping us by speaking French only…even after hours.  It’s been a wonderful experience.  We’re also learning a lot about the Swiss culture.  One the things we picked up early on was greeting.  The Swiss, like the French, greet each other with a kiss on the cheek.  In Switzerland, upon meeting, two people simultaneously kiss each other on the cheek…left cheek first, then right, and back to left again.  We’ve learned that kissing a total stranger quickly begins the process of building a friendship.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

I Can See Clearly Now The Rain Is Gone

Alps It has been raining nearly every day since we’ve arrived.  There have been a couple of days when we’ve had a few hours of sun, but for the most part it’s been overcast and cloudy.  We’ve also experienced hailstorms and incredible electrical storms.  The other day, the weather service logged over 30,000 lightning strikes in Switzerland in a 24-hour period.

Today was our first day without rain and the sky was clear enough we could see the snow covered Alps from our house.  We can even see the Matterhorn!…yes, the real one that Disneyland’s is modeled after.  For even a better view, our hosts drove us up to an overlook called appropriately enough, View of the Alps.  It’s a ski area in the winter and a nice picnic getaway during the summer.  More rain is predicted this week, but we’re hoping for a few sunny days in between.  The Swiss are out walking around in shorts and swimming in the lakes and swimming pools.  We’re afraid it’s not quite warm enough for us to do that yet.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Ups and Downs

Funicular Switzerland is a nation of mountains.  We spend a lot of time walking up and down hills.  Thankfully, the Swiss transportation system accounts for this.  In Neuchâtel, we have 2 funicular systems that transform long and exhausting walks uphill into short trolley rides.  A funicular is a specialized cable car with a passenger car at each end of a motorized cable.  As one car is  traveling uphill, the other is traveling downhill simultaneously on the same track.  The cars pass each other midway on a special crossing track.  For those of you familiar with Los Angeles, the historic Angel’s Flight is a funicular.

The public transport in Neuchâtel is very convenient.  We have been traveling via train, bus, electric trolley bus, and funicular.  The funicular is one of our favorites.  One of them takes us from the main train station to the shore of Lake Neuchâtel in under five minutes allowing us a wonderful picnic lunch at the lake each day after class.  It would be a 20-30 minute walk up and down some very steep hills otherwise.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

No Peeing In The Pool

“Halte au pipi dans l’eau des piscines” was literally the headline in the newspaper today.  The story was about the rising health problem of people not using the restrooms at public pools.  Because our train arrives in Neuchâtel 45 minutes before our classes begin, we’ve been using this time to build our reading comprehension and vocabulary by reading the newspaper each day.  It’s also given us a closer glimpse into Swiss culture.  There was a story a few days ago about the intolerable tardiness of trains the last few months.  According to the article, as many as 5% of trains have been arriving 1-2 minutes late.  These “staggering statistics” are forcing the train companies to fix things or else!  They are considering docking the train drivers’ pay every time they are late.

It’s been interesting to see what stories make it into the paper.  Yes, we too have been overwhelmed by Michael Jackson stories.  But we had to hang our heads in shame when a story ran last week (complete with photo) about the annual July 11th mooning party of Amtrak and Metrolink trains in Laguna Niguel, CA.  We were amazed that word of this “local ritual” has extended beyond the OC and has become international news. 

Monday, July 20, 2009

Fantasyland

Le Landeron We were invited to lunch yesterday by a family at church that lives in a village called Le Landeron about 20 minutes from Neuchâtel on the bank of Lake Bienne.  We began our visit in the family garden (which was VERY large) picking and eating fresh raspberries and blackberries straight from the vine.  We then moved on to black currants, cranberries, and plums.  After about a half-hour of grazing in the garden, we had lunch in their beautiful home with a few other people from church.  Their house is amazing (over 400 years old) and opens up to the center of the original village of Le Landeron which dates back to 1260.  The village has just one street.  Standing in the street is like standing in the center of Fantasyland at Disneyland.  There are stunning fountains at both ends of the street and a large village clock.

We’ve been really blessed by the people we’ve been meeting.  We have a lot of new friends that have been taking really good care of us.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Going Postal

La Poste - Montmollin Last night, we were invited to dinner with the staff of the postal service in downtown Montmollin.  Basically, what this means is we had dinner with Pierre-Andre and his wife Therese who operate the post office and deliver the mail for the Swiss postal service in Montmollin.  Downtown consists of the post office and a small elementary school surrounded by farms and farmhouses.

We met Pierre-Andre and Therese in a home Bible study a couple of weeks ago.  They live in a farmhouse two doors down from the post office.  They have made a couple of trips to the US and traveled extensively through the States via motor home.  They have been to 44 U.S. states.  Needless to say, they know more about much of our home country than we do. 

We had a wonderful dinner and time of sharing with them and their three kids.  Like many people in Switzerland, their first language is German.  Switzerland has four official languages:  German, French, Italian, and Romansh.  Although Pierre-Andre and Therese speak English, they focused on speaking purely French with us to help in our language acquisition effort.  Cole really enjoyed some interaction with kids his age.

After dinner, Pierre-Andre and Therese invited us across the street with them to visit with a woman named Fatama, who is from Algeria - one of Mali’s bordering countries.  We had met Fatama at the same Bible study.  She and her family had some Swiss friends visiting and we enjoyed sharing some company and Algerian tea (much like Malian tea) with them.

These times of getting together with others in Switzerland have been very special to us and we’re making a lot of new friends.  They are helping us gain a lot of confidence in our language learning.  All of our conversations have taken place in French and we have never been lost in the conversation or lacking for words.  Everyone has been very graceful and forgiving with our elementary French skills and have corrected and helped us when necessary.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dollar Menu

With the falling value of the dollar, it’s difficult living overseas today.  But this adds up even more in Switzerland where the cost of living is much higher than we’re accustomed to.  We’re having to bypass or curtail many of our cravings for the Western world.  Upon stepping back into a developed nation, McDonalds is a big attraction for many missionaries, and especially missionary kids (MKs).  Our Swiss friends in Mali have told us they never eat at McDonalds because it’s too expensive.  How can McDs be too expensive?  We soon found out.  There are several McDonalds restaurants in Neuchâtel.  Here, the Swiss call it McDoe.  It was one of the first stops on our list.  It quickly became the last.  A simple #1 Value Meal (Big Mac, fries, & Coke) is over $12.50.  A Big Mac by itself is $6.00.  Ouch!  Some much for the ol’ stand-by.  Check out the p’tits prix menu, the equivalent of the dollar menu in the States:  http://www.mcdonalds.ch/fr/actuel/les-ptits-prix%284-117%29.htm.  For comparison purposes, 1 Swiss franc is worth slightly less than $1 USD.

On the brighter side of things, cheese and chocolate are abundant and inexpensive here.  This is helping with John’s weight gain goals.  These goals are probably going to reverse when it comes time to leave.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Pardon Our Dust

With the school’s recommendation, we have chosen to continue our language learning in the 2nd level French class.  It continues to be challenging, but we seem to be keeping up.  The school is very transient in nature with people cycling in and out of the class on a weekly basis.  It’s also vacation time in Switzerland for the school staff, so we are getting an opportunity to experience working with several teachers as well.  The variety has been nice.

We feel like we are learning a lot and this trip will be well worth the effort.  The classes are very intense.  It’s a lot like trying to drink from a fire hose.  Some days we come away feeling refreshed when things really click, while others we’re left overwhelmed and confused by new concepts.  So far, we’re all having our ups and downs on separate days, so we’re able to hold each other up during the difficult times.

Our train station in Montmollin closed on Monday for 3 weeks as they do maintenance work on several miles of the tracks.  We had received notice ahead of time so we were weren’t caught by surprise.  The train service has provided a shuttle bus which picks up people from the Montmollin station and takes us to the next closest station on the same schedule as the train.  Even with the changes in service, the Swiss transportation system continues to run like clockwork.  We certainly know the origin of this phrase now.  Even during times of inconvenience, everything still remains extremely convenient.

Monday, July 06, 2009

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For…

creuxduvan We had a busy weekend meeting with friends and exploring Switzerland.  We started Friday with lunch with Hermine, a lovely retired Swiss woman who lives in Neuchâtel and serves as the liaison for missionaries attending the Inlinga language school.  She is also very involved in the church we’re attending.  She invited us and another missionary language student over for lunch and visiting.

Tudienus & Clarks On Saturday, we shared the afternoon with Nathalie Tudienu and her girls.  They serve with YWAM in Mali at our Koutiala base.  A couple of years ago, Nathalie’s husband Charles died suddenly of a heart attack during a YWAM conference we were attending in Koutiala.  This has been a difficult time for Nathalie and her two daughters.  Nathalie is Swiss and they have temporarily relocated to Switzerland to be near family as they continue to process their loss.  They live about 30 minutes by bus from us.  It was really neat to spend an afternoon with them catching up on each others’ lives.  We had lunch at her house then took a relaxing walk through the forest and along the shore of Lake Neuchâtel.

This is one of the first years we didn’t celebrate the 4th of July.  Being in another country, American holidays often pass without us even realizing.  We did hear a large fireworks show on Saturday night, but couldn’t see it from our house.  We don’t know if it was related to the our 4th of July holiday, but we pretended it was.  Switzerland celebrates their Independence Day on August 1st.   We’re looking forward to celebrating with the Swiss this year.  We also have Malian Independence Day coming up on September 22nd.

Clots & Clarks On Sunday afternoon, the Clot family (whose home we’re living in), invited us for a hike through some local mountains.  From Neuchâtel, we can see a large cliff formation in the distance.  They drove us up to that area and we hiked out to the edge of the cliffs for a breathtaking view down into Switzerland.  It’s not a climb to the top of the Alps mind you, but the landscape was still stunning.

Sundays are a traditional day for hiking in Switzerland.  We were surrounded by many other hikers.  The Swiss are known for their skiing.  Apparently, they still practice even when there is no snow on the ground.  We passed several hikers that were walking with the assistance of ski poles.  We’ve also seen this around town the past couple of weeks.  It looks like people are often skiing up and down the sidewalks.

After our hike, the Clots invited us to a local restaurant on a dairy farm in the mountains for a special Swiss treat called crème cornets.  It’s a waffle ice cream cone filled with fresh whipped cream instead of ice cream.  They were to die for.  We won’t be surprised if this confection finds itself onto the food midway of the U.S. fair circuit.